University of Exeter among organisations to win #EUvsVirus hackathon with pioneering solution to fight coronavirus outbreaks

University of Exeter among organisations to win #EUvsVirus hackathon with pioneering solution to fight coronavirus outbreaks

A pan-European interdisciplinary team won a prestigious international competition to develop pioneering new solutions to aid the recovery from pandemics such as COVID-19. The Univerity of Exeter, which is part of the aqua3S consortium, was part of the winning team. 

The team of researchers, including members of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Water Systems (CWS), secured one of the main prizes at the recent #EUvsVirus Hackathon, hosted by the European Commission. The major hackathon involved more than 20,000 people from 141 countries worldwide who competed at developing innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges.

For the event, the team including Exeter researchers developed Sewers4COVID  – a prototype that can quickly and cost-efficiently detect outbreak hotspots at the national scale. The prototype utilises sewer surveillance and machine learning techniques to forecast pandemic outbreaks in real-time. It also takes into consideration socio-economic conditions, to identify the vulnerable groups that are at high risk.

The pioneering development could be used for early identification and prevention of disease spread, monitoring of public health, detection of epidemic outbreaks and, enable decision-makers to take critical measures and deploy resources in advance to protect the communities from pandemics.

As well as experts from Exeter, the research hackathon team also featured experts from KWR Water Research Institute (Netherlands),  Eurecat – Technology Centre of Catalonia (Spain)University of Thessaly and National Technical University of Athens (Greece).

The hackathon was judged in six categories – Health & Life, Business Continuity, Social & Political Cohesion, Remote Working & Education, Digital Finance, and Other. The #EUvsVirus judge panel awarded Sewers4COVID the Winner of the “Other” category.

Professor Dragan Savic FREng, Professor of Hydroinformatics at CWS, said: “The team has burned midnight oil over the 64 hours of the hackathon competition and showed that an excellent idea can be implemented quickly by a highly interdisciplinary and motivated team.”

Dr. Lydia Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia, a Senior Research Fellow at CWS, said: “Facing and managing the pandemic requires international cooperation and interdisciplinary approach”

Dr. Albert Chen, a Senior Research Fellow at CWS, said: “Our strong international partnership has created a Sewers4COVID system that will contribute to global action to fight against pandemics. The concept is also transferrable to predict other diseases to enhance public health protection in many other countries.”

Dr. Mehdi Khoury, a Senior Research Fellow at CWS, said: “If you know in advance when the virus is coming and where it’s coming, you can anticipate. Layers of socio-economic data about the area can then be used to decide what combination of measures will have the best effects considering the available resources.”

Gareth Lewis, a Research Fellow at CWS, said: “For us, this hackathon has demonstrated once again that often the most useful potential solutions are in the last place we would conventionally look for them”

Prof. Chrysi Laspidou, Professor at University of Thessaly, said: “It’s all about data and data sharing! And it doesn’t matter where your data comes from–in this case, from the sewers! When data is used wisely and combined with science, artificial intelligence, and smart computing and visualization, it can make a strong tool that solves real-life problems and can save lives!!”

Prof. Maria P. Papadopoulou at National Technical University of Athens, said: ”Sewers4COVID proved that a pan-European multidisciplinary approach may be the solution of great problems of the humanity”

Marc Ribalta, a Researcher of Smart Management Systems Unit at Eurecat Technology Centre, said: “To fight against the pandemic, we must use all the possible tools, and data is a powerful one. The combination of sewers and artificial intelligence in Sewers4COVID can provide great assistance in the decision making against the virus.”

Lluís Echeverria, a Senior Researcher of the Smart Management Systems Unit at Eurecat Technology Centre, said: “Fascinated to see how different technologies and domains, such as Microbiology or Artificial Intelligence, can work together to face critical situations and contribute to a better world. Sewers4COVID will become a key solution to overcome the current and future global pandemics.”

For more information, please watch